Saturday, 16 March 2013


Bristol University student Emily Milodowski with Dr Elaine Ostrander and Dr Gus Aguirre

On Saturday 9th March, the founder of Metro Bank, Vernon Hill and his wife Shirley presented the International Canine Health Awards, the largest veterinary awards in Europe, to three deserving individuals at a ceremony held at this year's Crufts Dog Show. These awards were launched last year to recognize and reward innovative researchers, veterinary scientists and students who are making an impact on the health and wellbeing of dogs, and transforming our understanding of human diseases.  Dr.Elaine Ostrander, Dr.Gus Aguirre and a student, Emily Milodowski, who were nominated by their peers and contemporaries, were presented with prizes to a combined value of £60,000 for their pioneering work in veterinary sciences. Bristol University student Emily Milodowski , has been chosen as the winner of the Student Inspiration Award.The awards were judged by a panel of representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research.

Emily's major interests at the moment are canine gastroenterology as well as bacteria and important changing features of bacteria such as the development of antibiotic resistance. Her research first started with a Summer Research Scholarship from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) looking at bacterial involvement in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs - the role of bacteria has previously been disputed in this disease, with many believing that IBD results from activation of the immune response in the gut for unknown reasons and that the bacteria (if involved at all) might then take advantage of damage that is there already. Her findings suggest that there was an association between Campylobacter and diagnosis of inflammation, and hopefully this will be researched further. This work on the prevalence and distribution of this bacteria, in the canine intestine, has led to Emily being awarded the £10,000 prize to fund her future work.

Emily became very interested in how bacteria interact with the immune system of dogs, and how certain bacteria can cause disease in some dogs, while other dogs that are exposed remain apparently perfectly healthy. This led on to Emily looking at wounds and wound infections, because chronic wounds and infections are currently a very topical area of research where it is possible to analyse interaction between the bacteria and canine host. It is increasingly apparent from the emergence of antibacterial resistance in human medicine that clinicians need to start targeting which patients are likely to need antibiotic treatment, and which patients will be fine. It is also important to identify features of bacteria which are important in these interactions and which may be suitable candidates for using in the development of antibacterial vaccines. While antibiotic resistance does not occur to the same extent in veterinary medicine as it does in the human field, it is a very interesting and important field to begin to advance, and to continue to encourage the responsible use of antibacterials in veterinary practice before resistance problems emerge. 

Emily's recent project on wound infections was part of her intercalated degree in Cellular and Molecular Medicine - for which she was awarded a Scholarship by the Wellcome Trust. The award is called the 2012 Intercalated Award from the Wellcome Trust Clinical Veterinary Research Training Programme. This project entailed looking for differences in bacteria isolated from wound infections and those carried by normal, healthy dogs. Differences in the genes that each bacteria have are compared and by finding out which genes are most common in bacteria that cause disease, it is hopefully possible to identify risk factors which can then be used to identify those dogs that are more likely to develop wound infections after surgery, simply by looking at the bacteria that they carry on their skin. 

Emily's fund will allow her to take this research further and look at how long after surgery these "dangerous" bacteria begin to colonise the surgical wound site. This might help us to see when it is best to use antibiotics in treating infections. Further to this, Emily wants to look at whether certain bacteria are able to interfere with and prevent normal wound healing, which would cause wounds to breakdown and persist as chronic wounds. Chronic wounds are difficult to manage and treat and represent serious health and welfare issues to dogs. 

The research will also look at how different dogs have different responses to the same bacteria in wounds, and similarly if you look back at IBD, there are certain breed predispositions to IBD, for example the German Shepherd, or Shar-pei. Research may include the effects of different diets. Future work may also start to look at identifying ' at risk ' breeds, possible breed predispositions to infection in general, because the function and control of the immune system is determined , in part, by genetic factors ,this may consequently further improve the way that veterinary clinicians can appropriately and effectively implement the best treatments. This research can also be extrapolated to human health, given how closely we interact with dogs, we are exposed to the bacteria that dogs carry and vice versa. Considering the problem of antibiotic resistance in human medicine, any research into improving approach to treatment of bacterial infections, including possible vaccine ideas, is likely to be helpful in some way.

by Stephanie Presdee

Many congratulations to Emily from the Synapse team.